Victor Serge

The Assassin and His Crime

Pages from the Diary of Victor Serge – VI


From The New International, Vol. XVI No. 5, September–October 1950, pp. 309–313.
Translated & annotated by James M. Fenwick.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Tomb of Coyoacan

July 21, 1945. Two visits to Natalia, whom I had not seen for a long time. Again I received the impression of overwhelming sadness which I had carried away at the time of my first visits, and which made me call Trotsky’s house “The Tomb of Coyoacan.” Natalia is the guardian of the Tomb, the indefatigable and resolute mourner for at least a hundred thousand admirable people.

Leaving the road I followed the banks of a muddy river along an abandoned cemetery. Big trees here and there resist the dryness and the heat of the sun. Old stone bridge, heavy vaulted arch. The Avenida Viena is broad, incandescent, with few residents. On a one-story house a cardboard sign whose red letters danced: “Animals of All Sorts Gelded.”

The house of the Old Man remains the same fortress with gray, loop- holed walls and iron door (but at the time of the murder attempt by S. [Siquieros – Mexican painter and Stalinist] neither these loopholes nor this existed ...). The garden is opulent with vegetation, cactus and palm trees surrounding a little monument in gray concrete: monument bearing the hammer and sickle – and flagstaff. The rabbit hutches with which the Old Man occupied himself are empty and neglected. Sunlight, sunlight everywhere, butterflies in flight, a heat crackle in the calmness, the silence.

Natalia has aged only a little. I do not know how old she is, around sixty, perhaps, but she is completely whitehaired, very thin, was clad in a black and white cotton dress, and she held a light, black shawl closely around her shoulders. Her hands are strong; strength remains in them. Her broad face, with her rather firmly cut chin, also denotes a former vigor. Her hazel eyes readily mist over with tears, her voice trembles.

We had not seen each other for more than a year because of my disagreement with the Trotskyist party. She greeted me affectionately – and we did not go over those stupid incidents again.

It is so strange for there to be only two survivors of such a great historic catastrophe – it is so maddening, and poignant and devastating that, I believe, we both had the same sensation of a struggle against an immense destruction.

In the room filled with shelves of books I saw only books of by-gone days, books which have been destroyed, whose authors have been destroyed, books of a generation that overturned the world – Preobrazhensky’s Modern Economy, L.D.’s How the Revolution Was Armed, and recent magazines, Novy Mir, Oktiabr, which, under these faithful titles, betray everything ...

We spoke of current Soviet literature, which writes apologetics for the worst czars, like Ivan the Terrible, and the generals of Nicholas II – total denial of revolutionary ideology and complete domestication of the writer. Then we spoke of well-known faces, faces of the dead, of the shot, of those who disappeared in jail ...

Natalia informed me that the torment of Walter Held had finally been cleared up. He was a young German (named Eppe), a naturalized Norwegian, who was one of the secretaries of the Old Man in Norway (along with Erwin Wolf, assassinated in Barcelona); he committed the insanely rash act of leaving for the U.S. via Russia and disappeared with his wife and child during the trip. It is known that he shared the cell of Heinrich Ehrlich [1] at Kuibishev – and probably ended up shot in a cellar like Ehrlich. Eppe-Held had demonstrated the falsity of Piatakov’s confession by conducting an investigation, together with the Norwegian authorities, into the planes which had landed at Oslo during that period. (And Piatakov had confessed to that alleged flight only to proclaim the falsity of the trial himself ...) In two hours, a hundred or so faces of the tortured appeared before us. I left, bearing with me a crushing solitude – but by which I did not feel myself crushed. That solitude engendered in me a hardening stronger than everything.

Tomb. The ideas of the revolution are dead. The hammer and sickle have become emblems of assassination and despotism. The victories of the civil war are dead, the heroism of the revolution is covered with lies. The intellectual works are destroyed – unknown by the world. The men, women and children who made that history are dead. The Old Man was killed in a nearby room. The press is closed to us. Publishers put our books under lock and key.

An American scientific institute forbids Natalia access to L.D.’s archives, confided to the care of a university. For years no direct news has come out of Russia to us. N. does not know what has become of the grandchildren of L.D., who were with Alexandra Lvovna Bronstein [2] and Maria Lvovna Sokolovskaya. A.L B. and M.L.S. were deported in ’34; A.L.B. wrote that she was in a little glacial village – absolutely alone. Natalia thinks that she must have died soon afterward for lack of medical care.

We talked about agents-provocateurs and about assassins: the latter survive. The Old Man’s assassin is in good health in the Penitenciaria, buys pictures, studies, dresses in the latest fashion. The two Sobolevitch brothers (“Lithuanians”: Sobolevicius) [3] were in Paris, until the fall of Paris, it seems. (Roman Weil and the “Senin” who visited me in Moscow in 1932 in order to betray me.)


July 3, 1946. Young and likable, Manuel Zamorano Hernandez, having come to me to ask for an interview for the socialist press of Chile, told me about his visit to the Penitenciaria de Mexico, where he met Jacson-Mornard. M.Z.H. visited the prison in the company of the secretary of the administration, Fara (or Farra) and a gentleman wearing glasses, well dressed, who spoke very familiarly to the official, and whom he took for an official himself. Then, when he asked to see Trotsky’s assassin, the man said: “So servidor” [at your service] ... Jacson-Mornard accompanied them even to the women’s prison, where a prisoner came up to him, explained her wants and received 20 pesos from him; J.-M. had a well-filled wallet. The doctor, Esther Chapa, openly exhibited the most ardent sympathy for J.-M. The position of J.-M. in the prison is completely privileged; he walks around freely, exercises great influence, enjoys real comfort. The impression of the visitor was that J.-M. could escape at any time. The administration says that “he makes himself very useful through his cultural work among the prisoners.”

J.-M. gives the impression of a vigorous man with great self-possession, filled with a feeling of his own importance, vigilant and cynical.

He spoke freely of his crime although he knew he was in the presence of a socialist. Maintained (1) that he was a Belgian general-staff officer; (2) that he had killed Trotsky during the course of a discussion, having been insulted and offended by L.T.; (3) that L.T. had proposed his leaving for China to form a Trotskyist military group and that he had refused; (4) that he had carried the Alpine stick with him because, the handle having been broken in the course of a trip, he counted on going to have it repaired after having left L.T.’s place. (These are new versions in contradiction with the facts and his statements during questioning.) He lies with facility and does not seem to fear contradicting himself.

Beneath his external calmness and cynicism a hypertension is visible. The visitor said: “Obviously a neurotic with great self-possession.”

In the administration offices there was a supply of the magazine Cultura Sovietica used to propagandize in the prison.


Bartoli and Augustin S. Puertolas thought that they recognized in J. a person named Mercader (or Mercadet), a Catalan Communist. The mother of M. was in Russia; he had a scar on one arm (J. also, it seems). A policeman of Catalan origin was said to have affirmed that shortly after his arrest J. spoke Catalan in his confusion (indirect testimony, doubtful).

Dr. Q. says that J. spoke Spanish badly and learned it during his examination. “We watched his progress.”

Dr. Q. thinks J. could be Balkan. I said: “Perhaps Caucasian or from the Middle East, given the type.” Possible. This is also the opinion of M. and A. Rosmer. Dr. G. thinks that J. probably knows Russian. Took a “lie detector” test, he was shown a message in Russian, of such a nature as to move him (his mother). The detector didn’t register any strong emotion. [For Jacson’s identity, see Gorkin book reviewed in this issue. – Ed.]

[We interrupt the sequence of the diary at this point in order to unite two sections on Jacson. A long section on Kravchenko comes at this point. It will appear in our next issue as the concluding installment. We have not altered the numbering of the footnotes, hence there is a break in the numerical sequence for the Kravchenko section.]

The Assassin

August 6, 1947. Lecumberri Prison (La Penitenciaria) has the classic appearance of all those which were constructed at the end of the last century. It reminded me of Saint-Gilles in Brussels and of the jail in Liege. Broad, two-story, yellow front with crenelated walls and towers. In front a vast, empty square, lots of trees. People vegetating. Sloppy guards were reading newspapers and sitting in chairs in the side entrances. Central porte-cochère; after crossing an antechamber you immediately enter the office of the director. It is only a step or two from the sidewalk. Careless guarding.

The office is roomy, neglected. Dirty doors and walls. Couch, desk.

A young woman was present when I was shown in. I had seen her arrive from the street. Of average height, chubby and muscular, well-shaped. Flashily dressed, stylishly enough in her fashion. The elegance of French non-commissioned officers’ wives. Light green silk suit, pretty green, open-work shoes with high heels, harlequin sun glasses with green frames. It was not sunshining at 9 in the morning, however. The glasses were a precaution, against whom or what? She was no longer wearing them, she was reading a newspaper. Thirty to 35 years old, been around a great deal. Not at all Mexican in type. (She even made me think of a typical Russian, with her broad cheekbones and her light complexion.) Brown hair, rather dark. Broad face; thin, straight nose, broad at the base. The strongly accentuated planes of her face, the vulgar lower portion, revealing the wear and tear of life. Her eyes were long, narrow, the pupils coffee-color, very dark. Pencilled eyebrows. Rouged. Strong, well cared-for hands, short fingers, the nails discreetly painted with natural polish. Roquelia Mendoza Buen-Abad, Mexican; the name, Abad, indicates a Syrian origin. All that is perhaps false.

Jacson-Mornard came in, walking rapidly. He experienced a shock on seeing me but mastered himself instantaneously. Tall, very well built, strong, supple – even athletic. Thick, athletic neck; powerful, well-formed head. A being with animal vitality. Glasses, a look deliberately evasive, sometimes hard and revealing. His features are sharp, fleshy, strong. Handsome man, on the whole, powerful nose, a mouth both small and full, wilful. The cleft in his chin very marked, the chin prominent and full. Squarish, narrow face. Thick hair, somewhat curly, dark brown. Very well dressed: brown leather jacket of expensive brown suede. Beneath it a stylish khaki silk sport shirt. Trousers of khaki gabardine, neatly pressed; yellow shoes with excellent soles. Self-assurance and physical well-being in his whole appearance.

I tried to establish his type. Not Jewish. Or Russian. Or Belgian, French or usual Spanish type. I was thrown off the track; I proceeded by elimination, but in vain. I thought of types that I knew slightly: Balkan, Turk, Caucasian, Arab, Syrian. Finally, Syrian, Arab, Turk seemed the most appropriate to me; they are found also in the Caucasus. Not a single exact index.

It seemed to me that they were visibly startled and embarrassed by my presence, although I pretended to be busy with a folder open in front of me. Their anxiety was visible at intervals. She acted cheerful, spoke animatedly, put her hand on his knees. He grasped her hands affectionately. Several times, however, they looked at me as if they were accidentally looking my way. Was he acquainted with photographs of me?

Looked at directly, his face revealed a constant twitching, insufficiently dominated by a constant effort of the will. The creases along his jaw gave him an evil aspect. Once we looked at each other at length. He has eyes shadowed by a massive arch of eyebrows. Brown pupils, almost black. His glance is one of terrible concentration, darkness, nightmare, and of defensive attack. The look of a hunted but strong man. He is said to be proud, full of self-assurance, contemptuous. I see him hunted, evil, dangerous. I observed that his girl friend had the same look but in more neutral tones. Her whole face revealed tension, self-mastery, an aggressive defense ... Why? She is not at all a minor Mexican governmental employee who fell for a prisoner, she is a strong woman who is consciously fulfilling a dangerous mission. A dangerous woman. I thought that on that very evening she would forward her report giving a detailed description of me. Vis-à-vis J. she perhaps sincerely plays her role. In watching her byplay I nevertheless thought of the professionals, whose worn and made-up face, pink complexion, large, pointed, mobile mouth she possesses. Almost pretty when she laughed. Common.

It seems that she had accompanied her sister who was visiting a prisoner named Crispi, in this way she met J., they fell in love with each other. All that could have been staged, her identity can be false. In any case she has the absolute confidence of the secret apparatus. For many years Jacson received his meals from the kitchen of his lawyer Medellin Ostos! now he receives them from his “wife.” Roquelia lives (Puente Alvarado, II – ?) with her mother or mother-in-law Mrs. Crispi, who does the cooking. A young girl brings the meals. R. says that J. is extremely absent-minded: “To the point of not seeing the salt on the table ...” That is conceivable ... She is dressed well above the means of a minor employee; often changes her clothes, always, in coming, wears sunglasses whose frames are the same color as her clothes. I recognized that sign. Well paid. Recently worked in the Federal District (where the Stalinist A.C. is an important official; our communist slanderer in Popular in ’41); lately, following the changes made in J’s regimen, she has been detached to work in the union of government employees, probably controlled by the communists. It should be noted that the secretary of the prison, José Fara, is also of Syrian origin (pro-communist).

Jacson: a strong brute with practical intelligence. Nothing at all of the intellectual. Thick. Dense. The secret service non-commissoned officer type. He lives in a nightmare knowing that the service will protect him without fail up to the very moment that it engineers his escape – disappearance, or up to the moment it has him killed in prison in order to suppress an embarrassing witness. His sole possible way out lies in a complete betrayal, but to attempt that under poor conditions would be suicide. He can ask for a parole in 3 years. Depends upon the political situation. An unidentified prisoner, secret agent of a totalitarian power – can he be paroled? Putting him at liberty with the cooperation of the secret service, furthermore, would mean his disappearance. He knows and weighs all this ceaselessly. I am told that he is afraid of two prisoners quartered in the same section of the jail as he is: the influential “Diablo” Huitron who has committed a whole series of crimes and Pancho Pistolas, a henchman ... He knows that the secret service, if the decision is made to liquidate him, must remain beyond suspicion.

In 1939–1940 poor Sylvia was only his instrument. He knows that today Roquelia is doubtlessly only an instrument in relation to himself.



1. The well-known leader of the Polish Bund.

2. Trotsky’s first wife.

3. Early leaders of the German Trotskyist movement who were at the time GPU agents or later became agents.

Last updated on 19 October 2018